Restaurant dishes

Take on tough restaurant dishes at home

I am confident in the kitchen, but there are a few dishes that I have never considered making at home. Always up for a challenge, last month I treated myself to one that seemed doubly difficult: I would cook not one but two tough dishes – the kind I thought you could only get in a restaurant – for the first time. And I would for a dinner.

First of all, at least in terms of preparation: Alaska in the oven. It’s really just a fancy ice cream cake, but it’s filled with drama that culminates with guests approaching around your table wearing a glistening white dome of French meringue, accented with charred peaks because you’ve just come from. take out an ice cream cake from a 500- degree oven. Baked Alaska uses seven ingredients, six of which are purchased, and it takes about 24 hours to prepare. What? Who has the time? Who has the patience? And is it worth it? I was about to find out.

According to tradition, the baked Alaska made its debut in 1867 at Restaurant Antoine in New Orleans. Chef-owner Antoine Alciatore created it to celebrate the recent acquisition of the new territory of Alaska by the United States from the Russian Empire. Finding a recipe I wanted to use was easier than I thought – it was right there, on the Food Network app on my phone. There was even a video.

It’s not complicated, just a mix of two flavors of ice cream, plus sherbet, cookie crumbs, store-bought pound cake and a meringue finish. I had never made meringue before and thought it would be difficult. It turned out, like the rest of the recipe, that you just have to be patient.

The evening started with the Valenciana paella.

I studied Spanish at school and visited Spain several times, for business and pleasure. There I fell in love with Paella Valenciana. A rice-based dish native to the coastal city of Valencia, where fresh seafood and meat is plentiful, it has several popular variations – some with seafood, others without; some with rabbit, a traditional main ingredient. I searched online and found a recipe to my liking, although I knew it would need a slight tweak.

The paella had seemed beyond my capabilities at home for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t own a paella pan, which is actually just an oversized pan, so I decided I could use the largest pan I have at home. First barrier removed.

Now we have to talk about saffron, arguably an essential ingredient in paella. It not only brings deep floral notes to the dish, but it gives the rice a wonderful golden color. Finding saffron in local stores proved difficult, but I eventually discovered the last bottle of expensive, hand-picked crocus stamen at Four Seasons Natural Foods in Saratoga Springs.

I’m happy to report that, like with baked Alaska, making Valenciana paella really wasn’t that thorny. It involved several steps which, when followed in order, resulted in a perfectly balanced main course and proved that I didn’t have to wait for a restaurant dinner – or a trip to Spain, as tempting as that might be. appear – to resume it.

For seafood, I went to Moby Rick’s in Saratoga. Although the recipe called for three-quarters of a pound of mussels (about 18), I added a full pound. Who doesn’t love plump mussels that come out of steaming rice? I also bought larger than expected shrimp, at 13-15 per pound, knowing they would shrink a bit during cooking, and wanted them to be clearly visible in the paella.

In Spain short grain bomba or calasparra rice is standard in paella, but my recipe says to use Arborio, named after a town in the Po Valley of Italy. It’s also a short grain rice, and if Italians can use it for 200 years in risotto, why can’t I use it in paella?

In another change, the original recipe called for links of chorizo, the slightly spicy and tangy Spanish sausage, but I used ground chorizo ​​from Saunder’s Farm in Greenwich, available at the Spa City Farmers Market. It might not have been traditional, but I think it helped the sausage to be more evenly distributed. Tomatoes, onions, capers and cilantro were also tucked inside. The result was a nourishing, deeply scented and visually impressive feast that wowed my family and friends.

We washed it down with a delicious Spanish albarino wine, using crusty bread to soak up the rest of the saffron goodness remaining in the paella pan. And then came the baked Alaska. In the eyes of my guests when I presented it, I knew I had succeeded. Paella Valenciana is hard to beat, but Baked Alaska won the night.

Does a New Orleans-born ice cream cake named after a state 4,000 miles north make sense alongside a seafood and rice dish eaten in Spain since? A millenium ? This is an argument for another time. What I know is that it was an extraordinary festive meal to punctuate the end of the summer.

It also boosted my confidence as a home cook. Now here’s my challenge: pick two or three dishes that you were intimidated to prepare at home. Invite guests. If something fails, open more wine and laugh out loud. If everything is a disaster, call for take out. But I don’t think that will happen. And if you are really proud of the result, send me pictures. I could feature them and your story on my blog.

Ralph Elwell of Saratoga Springs writes the Ordinary Cook blog, cuisine-ordinaire.com. You can follow him on Instagram: @ralph_the_ordinary_cook.



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